King Amanullah at Croydon Airport

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On 21 March 1928 King Amanullah of Afghanistan visited Croydon Air Port1 as part of his European tour, making his first flight in Europe, and his first on a civil aircraft.2

[This page is about aviation, rather than trains. If you just want trains, skip to the next page about King Amanullah’s tour of Swindon railway works]



King Amanullah had taken an interest in aviation during his tour of Europe. While in Britain he visited the RAF School of Technical Training at Halton, and saw a flying display Hendon aerodrome.3

Although the weather was “very chilly” when the King visited Croydon, a local newspaper reported that people from Beddington, Carshalton and Wallington went to the aerodrome to see him, swelling “the big crowd from Croydon and other places in the public enclosures”.4 Invited guests included the Mayor of Croydon, WJ Chamberlain, and the Chairman of Beddington & Wallington Urban Council, George Hitchings.

The King’s visit was “purely one of inspection”, there being no “stunt or other flying”. He arrived with his entourage in six cars, and began by with a “rapid but comprehensive”5 tour of the new terminal buildings. These had only recently been completed, and though in use had not yet been ceremonially opened.

The highlight of his visit to the airport, described as the King’s “greatest thrill in the west”, was a circular flight over London on aircraft G-EBOZ City of Wellington, one of Imperial Airways’ three Armstrong Whitworth Argosy Mk I biplanes. Equipped with three Armstrong Siddeley engines, these were some of the biggest airliners in the world, with 18 seats.6

The foreign office had arranged for the King’s trip to be filmed, and a version subtitled in Persian was due to be shown at Kabul’s only cinema.7

After the instruments were explained to the King the aircraft took off, heading towards the Crystal Palace. It was fully loaded with three staff and 17 passengers, including the King and his suite and Britain’s Secretary of State for Air, Sir Samuel Hoare, and Director of Civil Aviation, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Sefton Brancker, who together acted as guides to the sights.8

The pilot was Captain W Rogers, who the King requested to meet after landing and complimented on the smooth flight.

While flying over the Crystal Palace and again when returning to the airport the pilot sent back a spoken message which was relayed to the crowd through a “powerful Marconi loud speaker”. Music from the BBC was also broadcast through the loudspeaker for a few minutes and could be “heard distinctly for a quarter of a mile”. During the flight the King used earphones to listen to the radio transmissions between the pilot and aerodrome, although he couldn’t understand the language.

Heading north, the aircraft flew at 2500 feet over London sights including Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace – which the king recognised and took great interest in – and Hyde Park, before crossing the Thames near Vauxhall and returning over southwest London.

The complete trip took 30 minutes, with the King airborne for about 20 minutes, and during the flight he was too busy to take refreshments as he “moved about in the plane, viewing the various scene through binoculars”.

At the King’s request a map “to the size of the map displayed in the Underground stations” was later produced as a memento, showing his route over London in red.

The aircraft was normally used on the route to Paris, and left for France with a regular service after the King’s flight.9

Although The Times suggested that this was the first flight over London by a king, there is a possibility that the King and Queen of the Belgians may in fact have been first.

On landing the King examined a two lines of light aeroplanes, including privately owned DH Moths which had been flown to Croydon at the invitation of the Air Council.10 “His Majesty displayed much interest in these, and later expressed his great pleasure in what he has seen”. He was said to be particularly interested in the female private pilots.

Captain Neville Stack flew over in a Nimbus 9 aircraft and dropped a parcel of mail on a Potter-McKenna parachute. This included a message of greetings from the Air Council written in Persian, and postcards of the airport for all members of the royal party, as well as Queen Soraya who was not present. A similar demonstration was performed for the Sultan of Zanzibar in June 1929.11

Stack also demonstrated how an Avro Avian aircraft could be brought out of a hanger, its wings unfolded and be airborne within a few minutes. The King also inspected the airport lighting system, including a “powerful revolving searchlight”.

A light luncheon was provided by Messrs Barclay & Perkins, who were erecting a £50 000 hotel at the aerodrome.

“His Majesty made a rapid but complete inspection of Croydon with the greatest interest, and at the conclusion he expressed his appreciation of our development in commercial and private flying”, reported Flight.12

Following the visit to Croydon, the King was driven along Purley Way – “cheered by little knots of people” – to Paddington station where he caught a train to visit the Great Western Railway’s works.13

Next page: King Amanullah at Swindon railway works

Links

References

  1. Although called Croydon Air Port (or Airport), strictly speaking much of the site was within the Borough of Beddington & Wallington, now part of the London Borough of Sutton.
  2. Afghan King. Visit to Croydon Aerodrome. Sutton Advertiser & Surrey County Reporter, 22 March 1928
  3. The Royal Visitor, Flight, 15 March 1928, p168
  4. King Amanullah. Delighted with visit to Croydon Aerodrome. Flight around London. Wallington & Carshalton Times, 22 March 1928, No 471. Note this incorrectly refers to the aircraft as a Handley Page
  5. Afghan King At Croydon. Flight Over London., Inspection Of The Air Port, The Times, 22 March 1928, p13
  6. Disentangling the aircraft history seems rather complicated, not helped by there being two different models of Armstrong Whitworth aircraft called Argosy, and a tangle of inter-related manufacturers with confusingly similar names
  7. For full details of the film see Visit of the King of Afghanistan to England at ColonialFilm.org.uk
  8. Monarch flies above London, AP report in The Miami Daily News, 21 March 1928
  9. Afghan King At Croydon. Flight Over London., Inspection Of The Air Port, The Times, 22 March 1928, p13
  10. Visit of the King of Afghanistan to Croydon, Flight, 22 March 1928, p197
  11. Royal Visitor at Croydon, Flight, 13 June 1929, p480
  12. Afghan King over London. Flight, 29 March 1928, p204
  13. Afghan King’s visit to Swindon works, Railway Gazette, 23 March 1928, p438

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